A REVIEW OF THE MATTER
BEFORE JUDGE DICKSON
BEFORE JUDGE DICKSON
As everyone knows, Judge Edgar Dickson, of the circuit court, will hold a hearing on the church case in his courtroom, in Orangeburg, on Monday, November 19, at 10:00 a.m. The judge has said he will listen to the lawyers' arguments for their various motions until he gets tired of it. Dickson actually has twenty-two papers before him already. Each side has entered three motions/petitions each. There is a great deal on the judge's plate here. Several weeks ago, I posted a blog piece trying to sort out what is on the plate. I thought it would be helpful to post this summary again as preparation for the hearing.
Original blog post of October 16, 2018:
FINALLY, ALL PAPERS FILED
WITH JUDGE DICKSON
Finally, at long last, all papers have been filed with Judge Edgar Dickson, of the circuit court. It has been nearly a year since the South Carolina Supreme Court denied the Diocese of South Carolina's petition for a rehearing and issued a "remit" order to the circuit court sending its August 2, 2017, decision down to the lower court. On last Friday, October 12, 2018, the lawyers for both sides submitted their final papers to the judge as per his request. Now, we can expect Judge Dickson to announce a date for a hearing, or meeting in the courtroom, with the lawyers. He said recently that he expected to have a court date in the weeks of October 22 or 29. It is entirely possible he will announce a date sometime this week.
Before we get to last Friday's final papers, it would be helpful to review what has happened in the last year that led up to these papers. We need to put these last lawyers' statements in perspective in order for them to make the most sense. Once again, I must remind everyone that I am not a lawyer or legal expert and I speak for no one but myself. Furthermore, all of my comments are offered as opinions.
1--- On August 2, 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision recognizing the Episcopal Church diocese's legal control over 29 parishes and Camp St. Christopher.
DSC appealed for a rehearing and for Justice Kaye Hearn to be recused and her opinion vacated. On November 17, 2017, the SCSC denied both petitions and issued a "Remittitur" to the circuit court, remitting its Aug. 2 decision to the lower court.
In February, 2018, DSC appealed to the United States Supreme Court asking for "cert." SCOTUS denied cert on June 11, 2018. This ended all possible appeals of the SCSC Aug. 2, 2017 decision.
2 --- DSC filed three motions/petitions/complaints to the circuit court. 1) Betterments suit, Nov. 19, 2017. This demanded payment from TEC/TECSC as the owners of the properties. 2) Motion for a complex case designation for the betterments suit, Dec. 27, 2017. This simply asked one judge for the whole matter. 3) "Motion for Clarification of Jurisdiction and for Further Relief," Mar. 23, 2018. This asked Judge Dickson to set aside the SCSC decision and decide the issues anew.
3 --- TEC/TECSC filed three motions/petitions/complaints to the circuit court. 1) a motion to dismiss DSC's Betterments suit, Dec. 15, 2017. 2) a petition asking the court to enforce the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017 and the appointment of a Special Master to oversee this, May 8, 2018. 3) a petition for an accounting of assets of DSC since 2008, July 11, 2018.
To summarize, DSC asked for two concessions of Dickson, for Betterments payments from TEC/TECSC and for the circuit court to set aside the SCSC decision and rule on the issues at hand. On the other side, TEC/TECSC asked Dickson to dismiss the Betterments suit, to implement the SCSC decision, and to require a full accounting of DSC assets. This boiled down to two big, different issues: the Betterments case and the implementation of the SCSC decision. As we will see, as time went by, the Betterments issue all but disappeared while the SCSC issue monopolized the scene.
Once SCOTUS denied cert on June 11, 2018, the field was cleared for the local courts to proceed.
On July 27, 2018, Dickson held a status conference with the two sets of lawyers and issued a schedule:
Aug. 2 - lawyers present their "lists" of requests of the court;
Sept. 24 - lawyers present their responses to the lists;
Oct. 5 - lawyers present their responses to the responses;
Oct. 12 - lawyers present their replies to the last responses.
Following this schedule, DSC submitted a "list" essentially saying the SCSC had not resolved the issues and the circuit should do so. TEC/TECSC simply asked the judge to implement the SCSC decision.
This has remained the basic positions of both sides, DSC asking Dickson to set aside the SCSC decision and decide himself on the issues, and TECSC asking the judge to carry out the SCSC decision. The back-and-forth of the responses has only made this clearer. This leads us to last Friday's final arguments:
On Oct. 12, the DSC attorneys submitted "Plaintiffs' Reply to Defendants' Brief in Opposition to Plaintiff's [sic] Motion for Clarification and Further Relief." The entire paper dealt with the SCSC decision which the lawyers said was too vague and conflicted to be enacted. They did not mention the Betterments suit or the complex case request. They made the lame argument that "The Supreme Court did not issue a mandate." In fact, the SCSC issued a "Remmittitur" to the lower court. They "remitted" their decision to the circuit court. To me, that is the same thing as a mandate. I do not see an effective difference.
The lawyers also returned to the issue of Old St. Andrew's which they had addressed off and on for months. They asked Dickson to clarify the supposed ambiguity of the identity of the "St. Andrew's" on the list of parishes outside TEC's trust control. The official list identified the "St. Andrew's" as the one in Mt. Pleasant.
Finally, the DSC lawyers declared, "the Court should hear this matter as soon as it is able. It should determine which, if any, of the 28 parishes not mentioned by the Supreme Court agreed in a signed writing to the Dennis Canon based on the existing trial record. It should also determine the ambiguity, if any, presented by Chief Justice Beatty's footnote." In effect, they asked the judge to discard the SCSC decision and decide for himself the issues involved in the case. I cannot imagine any judge in his right mind who would agree to do such a thing.
The Church side lawyers submitted "Defendants' Omnibus Reply Brief to Plaintiffs' Opposition Briefs to Defendants' Petititon for Enforcement, Petition for an Accoutning, and Motion to Dismiss Betterment Action." While arguing essentially the same points as they had all along, the lawyers gave them a new twist. They claimed the DSC parishes had repudiated their claims to the properties: "Plaintiffs have repudiated their roles as trustees." The Church lawyers pointed out that the DSC lawyers had said in arguing for Betterments, "Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action because they have repudiated their roles as trustees." If they repudiated their claims to the properties, this would render moot any re-litigation of the property ownership issue.
In conclusion, after all is said and done, the Episcopal Church diocese is asking the judge to enforce the state supreme court decision and the breakaway diocese is asking the judge to discard the decision and decide himself the settlement of the issues of the case. I cannot envision any scenario in which Judge Dickson, a famously careful, deliberate, and reasonable man would ever entertain the idea of reopening this case. If he is not going to re-litigate the case, he has no alternative but to implement the SCSC decision.
What happens next? I expect Judge Dickson will announce a day and time for a court appearance with the two sets of lawyers at the courthouse in Orangeburg; and I expect he will do this within the next week. It is possible he will hand down some decisions at the court time. It is also possible he will only have discussion with the lawyers and defer decisions to some future time. At any rate, we are inching closer, however slowly, to resolution of a long, long running disaster. I expect to be at the court appearance which will be in the near future. I have a hunch the judge will issue some important decisions. I want to be there in person to hear them.
For links to the court papers, see the listing here .